We appear to be in the decade of re-releases. A rain of HD remakes floods our systems and we shake our money at it like a new-age rain-dance. It has reached a point where Capcom has decided HD remakes are to be one of their key business activities. Although, this comes with two questions: Why should those who own the previous form buy it? And does it stand the test of time for new audiences? To both questions, Atlus has some interesting answers.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a name that, beyond being a hell of a mouthful, may be retreading familiar territory. Etrian Odyssey 2 was released in 2008 in Japan and North America for the DS with the subtitle Heroes of Lagaard. As someone from the not-so-United Kingdom, it was a relief when the Atlus-developed title got a re-release for the 3DS under the subtitle Untold: The Fafnir Knight.
Before we leap into what this re-release means, I should probably first sit down and explain the base game itself. If you know the original game for the DS, just skip ahead to the horizontal line below.
Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a first-person, dungeon-crawling, turn-based JRPG. It’s the type where you stumble around a maze trying to find the stairs to the next floor, occasionally tripping over an enemy and trading numbered slaps until one side falls over. Although it seems to be copying over the shoulder of older Western RPGs like Ultima with regards to the maze being another foe, trapping you in its embrace unless you can navigate your way through it.
This is where Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold distinguishes itself the most: You will be expected to map out each floor, sometimes having to draw on it and put symbols as appropriate. This will be your tool for navigating the various features including the stairs.
While an interesting idea in theory, it ends up forcing this feature down the throats of those not big on cartography. It is also your tool to skip floors previously done, as only once a floor is deemed complete by the powers that be in the game can you skip to the next one. Those not big on map-making will have to wrestle with what amounts to tedious drawing.
This cartography is, fortunately, helped by the game drawing the floor you walk on for you (and occasionally putting symbols down for quests, so you don’t play hide-and-go-seek with objectives). However, excluding the first floor of the first dungeon, I’ve never managed to get the skip-floor function to trigger. I have no idea what I may be missing. This leads to situations where you’re spending 5 to 10 minutes retreading the same territory just to get to the new sections of the dungeon. It could have done with a “percentage complete” function. Despite this, if you enjoy doodling maps of labyrinths you conquer in RPGs, this game provides excellent in-game practice for it.
Fortunately for those who are not thrilled by map doodling, the combat is excellent in its accessible depth. Even in the Story Mode, with its pre-generated characters, you can choose what classes each person will be. You can then use a skill point each level to unlock or upgrade a skill (which includes things like your health/mana pool). If you hit a point in the game where you’re unhappy with how things have progressed, you can then swap the classes by sacrificing five levels. This is layered on top of the usual management of “give them the stick that deals the most damage, trousers with the most protection, trinkets that grant little buffs” that comes with most RPGs. While it isn’t the most in-depth levelling up system about, especially as nothing interesting is done with equipment, it does simplify things enough while giving extensive choice to allow for the unfamiliar to dive in gleefully.
In addition, the combat allows for a “special move” feature (called Force) that allows for an interesting gamble. Once charged, you’ll be able to get a passive bonus for three turns before it fades, although you can end it prematurely by using a powerful attack. However, after using the powerful attack you won’t be able to use Force until you return to town. I found this choice between a heavy singular strike or repeated passive bonuses incredibly interesting, especially when fighting bosses ready to gorge on my intestines like bloody spaghetti.
Although speaking of towns, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold offers a little mini-game that perhaps hits a soft spot for me. You gain control of a restaurant where you must find recipes, decode the vague hints by solving what ingredients you use, find patrons to visit your bar, and then advertise the right food/drink for the right people. You can also upgrade the town to get more customer choice. These lead to getting more money which you can use to get better beating-sticks and trousers for your party. Alongside this, you can equip food you’ve unlocked to give you passive bonuses when adventuring (e.g. more ingredient pick-ups, health regeneration while you move, and increased chance to apply status effects). It is a very small mini-game, but as a fan of games like Cook, Serve, Delicious!, Adventure Bar Story, and Recettear, I had a lot of fun trying to get Gobbles to print money for me.
You see that line above? It’s time we get to the changes, or rather the additions. As someone who isn’t familiar with the original game I had to look up the alternations. Most of them are overtly good, like more save files, faster loading times, and more map icons to play with. There is even an added dungeon to wander about in, as well as DLC (which includes a new class: Highlander). What could be seen as the main event of this retreading is the newly added Story Mode; it’s a brand new campaign that has an actual story with it, along with the option to go with the Classic Mode without story.
Despite this, well, the story is simply not interesting. I prefer it over the Classic Mode’s no story, but only because the okay narrative with nothing noticeable to speak of, technically, successfully fills the narrative void. My only grumble (at least besides the anime-trope characterisation that inspires apathy) is the plot’s tendency to make you flit between the two main dungeons of the game, almost like a fetch quest in how back-and-forth it seems. Despite this, well, the narrative in the Story Mode works and nothing more.
The final score for Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight is a 7.5/10. This is the type of remaster that people become gleeful about, one that fixes problems of old (e.g. faster load times), adds something brand new (e.g. Story Mode), but still distills the original form for audiences of new and old. It still holds you up against the wall if you don’t fully fulfill your cartography duties, and the newly added narrative is an absolutely no-thrills adventure that never goes beyond just functioning, but the combat and amount of added features are excellent.
It’s a shame that in the EU (where it was recently released) it is competing against Bravely Second (26th of February) for attention in the 3DS RPG market. Despite this, if you’ve played the original or never played it at all, I highly recommend faffing about with The Fafnir Knight if you need a 3DS RPG to add to your collection. This is especially if you still reminisce in the sunrise over iced ginger beer/iced tea about stealing squared-paper from math lessons to map DOS RPGs. For a moment escaping from the reality of being an awkward acne-covered teen to become a noble adventurer, solving all riddles with a sword. “Nobility doesn’t mean I have to be clever,” you’d snark to yourself as you try to carve your initials into Lord British’s forehead for the twentieth time. Aahh, the good old days when games didn’t try to judge you and confused psychopathy for nobility.
A 3DS code for Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold: The Fafnir Knight was provided by NIS America for the purpose of this review